ST. PETERSBURG — If there is any lesson to be learned from the Rays' weekend series against the Tigers, it's this: Don't take Matt Andriese out of the game.
The Tigers' four-game sweep was bookended by a couple of late-inning comebacks, both of which took place after Rays manager Kevin Cash removed Andriese and dipped deeper into his struggling bullpen.
Sunday it was Xavier Cedeno who replaced Andriese in the eighth inning with runners on first and second, one out and the Rays leading by a run.
Cedeno got the ground ball he wanted, but the Rays couldn't turn the inning-ending double play, and the Tigers tied the score. Next came a single followed by a two-run double, and that was basically the ball game as the Tigers left town with a 5-1 victory.
"There was a decision (to be made), and I'll take the blame for that," Cash said. "You try to make the right decisions to help your team win. Today it didn't work. Andriese could have (kept pitching). We didn't have to go make a decision right then. I chose to, so that one's on me."
The Rays fell to 33-48 at the midway point of the season with their 16th loss in their past 18 games. That is tied with the 2007 Rays for the worst 18-game stretch in team history.
"The loss," Cash said, "is frustrating, as they all are. … We're just coming up short maybe at the end of the ball game."
Cash did point to Chris Archer's outing as a bright spot, yet the starter was gone after 51/3 innings because of his pitch count.
Archer withstood a rough start — two walks and a single that loaded the bases without an out in the first — and found a way to pitch into the sixth inning. He did not allow a run for the first time since May 6 and struck out 10, but he left after throwing 115 pitches, three shy of his season high.
Archer got out of the first-inning jam by striking out the next three batters. But it was another long inning in which he threw 29 pitches. He was at 49 after two.
Archer was pleased with the way he bounced back but said, "It does alter the course of the game and make the bullpen come in earlier than need be."
And that is a problem, because the Rays' bullpen just doesn't have the firepower of past years.
Andriese replaced Archer with runners on the corners and two out in the fifth, and retired Justin Upton on a line drive to shortstop Brad Miller.
Thursday, Cash didn't send Andriese back out for the ninth because the Rays led by five runs. What followed was an epic meltdown as the Tigers rallied for eight runs.
Sunday's comeback by the Tigers was not quite as epic, and had the Rays been able to turn the double play on Victor Martinez's grounder to first base, well, who knows?
But they didn't.
"You're taking a chance right there of getting Cedeno, with his cutter, getting a ground ball with Victor," Cash said. "Obviously, you anticipate a pull-side ground ball (to the left side). We didn't get that. It made for a very difficult ball to turn, and then things kind of unraveled from there."